Alice Soon

My Literary Life & other obsessions…

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For years, many people in the publishing industry have been bemoaning the lost art of reading – citing that livelier distractions and new technologies have taken away our focus and veneration for the written word. Movies, television, video games, social media…you name it, these are all reasons NOT to read.

This is a difficult fact to argue. I mean, who among us, between our grueling daily commute, tedious 9-to-5 jobs, school classes, home responsibilities has time to read? And why bother? There always seems to be a new, more enticing flashy object to lure our attention. #selfiepost
Book Love
But here I will argue that to give up the profound experience of reading is to do yourself a disservice. Though I myself am a self-proclaimed book-lover and book snob who tries to read at least 40-52 quality books per year, I realize I’m in the minority. I know of NO ONE I know personally, who reads as much as I do (except the nerds in my online book club, but they are a different breed altogether). And this is not to show off or prove how cool I am; rather, it’s to illustrate how sad it has become that the average person in North America reads only between 5-12 books to year (and most of them best-sellers, commercial fiction, celebrity-endorsed books, etc…). Books should not be just as a passing fancy, to see what the fuss is about (here’s looking at you, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY), or something to carry with you to the beach.

So, without further ado, are 5 reasons WHY I READ:


Oprah recently did an interview with mega Hollywood producer, Brian Grazer, on the nature of curiosity and how it has shaped his career. I turn to books because I realize there is just SO MUCH I don’t know about the world. And I want to know more. I want to learn. Why? Learning for learning’s sake? Well, yes. Every time I learn something new, it’s like having a badge of honour pinned to my chest – it means I have accomplished something. I know something now that I’ve never known before. And to think all of this KNOWLEDGE is just squished somewhere in the crisp pages of a book…AMAZING!

I used to walk into a library and think to myself in awe – Why, if a person can READ, they can literally learn anything they want. Just pluck a book from the shelf and it’s right at their fingertips. Knowledge is power.


I don’t know what it’s like to live with a fundamentalist Muslim. I don’t know what it’s like to survive in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica. I don’t know what it’s like to be a Suffragette who is jailed because she is fighting for basic human rights.

Yet, when I read books on topics like these (THE BLIND MAN’S GARDEN/A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS/My own research for my 1st novel) – I start to understand another person’s point of view. I may never go to Afghanistan or Pakistan (nor, may I ever want to); I don’t have access to a time machine to go back 100 years, but through reading, I can experience all of these facets of life. To see the world through another’s eyes makes you a more empathetic person. You may not agree with everything they say or do, but at least you can have a more informed, well-rounded perspective.


I don’t even have to try with this one – it just happens automatically. You want to learn how to spell and write properly? READ. Just read. You will learn how good sentences are made (and even the bad ones).


Two words: HARRY POTTER.


I would never purport to be a perfect person, but I would say that books have made a huge impact on my life and have taught me many things. The best books are sometimes the ones that make you the most uncomfortable. But through this discomfort, you are forced to hold up a mirror to yourself and ask: Why do I feel this way? And examine your own innate prejudices and insecurities. I don’t think I would be the person I am today without books.
So go and pick one up today (any book) and let it change your life. :-)

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As always, another year has gone by and I usually like to reminisce about the books I’ve read. In 2014, I had to revise my reading goal down to 40 books (because I’ve been a little busy & unable to reach my usual goal of 1 book per week), but here are the highlights:


• “As I Lay Dying” – William Faulkner – So exceptional, I’ve added this book to my ALL-TIME FAVORITE BOOKS EVER LIST
• “The Interpreter of Maladies” – Jhumpa Lahiri – Also exceptional, mostly in the way she structures her short stories. It’s masterful.
• “The Blazing World” – Siri Hustvedt
• “Animal Farm” – George Orwell
• “The War of Art” – Steven Pressfield
• “Euphoria” – Lily King
• “A Single Man” – Christopher Isherwood

• “The Luminaries” – Eleanor Catton

There you go, my quick & dirty list!
Next year, my goal in 2015 will be to read 42 books (which is still almost double Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year’s Resolution to read 26 books. Hahaha!) 😛


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How to Face Rejection as a Writer

This month, my literary agency asked its’ authors to feature a guest blog post on various topics and my assignment was “How do you continue to go on after you’ve been told NO?”

Here was my response:

How do I go on?

It’s simple: Either you find the strength to persist as a writer or you don’t.

So what happens if you don’t? Logically, nothing bad will actually happen to you – you will not dissolve in the sunlight, your life will not end, and you won’t turn into a pumpkin at midnight…But something far more insidious may happen to you: You become an empty shell.

If you are an artist and you are called to write, something whispers inside your head. Call it the Muse, call it Divine Inspiration, call it Crazy Voices…but most writers acknowledge this has always existed within them – the need to tell stories and the need to write. If you stop writing because someone has rejected you, the only person you will disappoint is yourself.

Something happens when you quit: You lower yourself, you diminish yourself to the banality of abject forces – You essentially give up on yourself. You become lesser of a person and you admit defeat.

Maybe it’s the Ram in me (my astrological sign is an Aries), but I don’t want that type of life for myself. I want to reach my maximum potential in this lifetime and beyond.

How do I go on?

It’s simple: I believe in myself and I don’t take things personally.

Yes, your manuscript is like your child – you have poured every ounce of what is good and imaginative and true into your book and no one wants it. It’s like a slap in the face; the utter rejection of everything you’ve worked hard for. It’s like saying your BABY IS UGLY or being dumped by the love of your life. NO ONE WANTS YOU.

But these are things you cannot control. You must remember that editors and publishers have subjective opinions – they are in the business of making money from publishing books and they are not always right.

So I keep working hard – I read books like my life depends on it and I constantly strive to improve my writing. I read about others who have succeeded even in the face of terrible adversity and this encourages me to go on.

If you look closely enough, the success stories are always there. The only difference between these writers and the rest of us is they decided not to quit.

• Eimear McBride’s, A GIRL IS A HALF-FORM THING, was widely rejected for nine years because it was “too difficult, too risky”, until a tiny, independent press picked it up. It has since won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Desmond Elliott prize, nominated for the Folio Prize and many others!

• Lionel Shriver had been a commercial failure for nearly 20 years when she wrote, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. Her own literary agent rejected it, 20 additional new agents she approached rejected it, until a small press decided to publish it. This book went on to win the Orange Prize and became an international best-seller.

• Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o, internationally renowned Kenyan writer & candidate for the Nobel Prize, wrote DEVIL ON THE CROSS while being imprisoned without a charge on toilet paper. If you think you have an excuse not to write (you’re too busy/you’re too stressed/you feel dejected/you have writer’s block, etc…), remember that writing while being thrown inside a prison cell scribbling on scraps of paper that people use to wipe themselves with, trumps ANY EXCUSE you will ever have.

So in summary:


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This month I had the privilege of visiting Austin, TX on business and I managed to make a stop @ BOOKPEOPLE- The largest independent book store in Texas!

While I was there, I could not resist buying 6 books (which I thankfully managed to fit into my suitcase after much wrestling and wrangling…), one of which was ODD TYPE WRITERS, by Celia Blue Johnson.
BookPeopleBook stash
In this book, Johnson chronicles the interesting and often odd habits of famous writers. I love reading books about other writers in order to get inspiration (AKA to stop being lazy and get off my ass!!).

Here is a very interesting list of authors who were keen early-birds. (Sufficed to say that although I LOVE Sylvia Plath, I will not be waking up at 4am to write!!!) 😛

I thought it might also inspire writers to stop making excuses and keep writing, because after all, true professionals punch-in each & every day to work:

4:00am – Sylvia Plath
5:00am – Jack London, Toni Morrison, Katherine Anne Porter
5:30am – Anthony Trollope, Kurt Vonnegut
6:00am – Edith Wharton, W.H. Auden, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Victor Hugo, Vladimir Nabokov
7:00am – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
8:00am – Flannery O’Connor, Wallace Stegner
9:00am – Virginia Woolf, Ray Bradbury, Thomas Mann, Leo Tolstoy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gore Vidal
9:30am – Carson McCullers
10:00am – W. Somerset Maugham

Happy Writing everyone!

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Interview with Paul Mark Tag – Author of HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME?

Summer is nearly over and I’m pleased to host an interview with author Paul Mark Tag on the release of his new historical fiction book – HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME? And of course, the cover is stunning!

Here’s a bit about the book:

Lovers James and Keiko marry quickly before James goes to World War II and Keiko to an internment camp. Sixty years later their daughter Kazuko, born in the camps, uncovers a secret that could overwhelm the family. Discover the very definition of human love and self-sacrifice in this saga of war, mystery, and romance.
1) What inspired you to write this book, and in particular, about this time in American history?

First, thank you for the opportunity to participate in this interview. I really appreciate it.

I live in California and have been aware of the World War II Japanese internment for some time. Very often, in our local paper, the Monterey Herald, an obituary will reference a person who had been interned. In fact, every Japanese who lived along the west coast of the U.S. was interned. Recognizing how much of an injustice this internment was (2 out of every 3 internees was a U.S. citizen, having been born here), I wanted to shine a light on this tragedy, particularly for the younger generations in our country. By learning from our mistakes, perhaps we can prevent ourselves from falling into such a trap again.

2) Who is your favorite character in the book and why?

I love them all, of course, because I had to get inside the head of each of them. Probably my favorite, however, is Barbara Armstrong, the Caucasian mother of Keiko’s husband, James. With nary a prejudicial bone in her body, she is a modern, progressive woman for the times and accepts Keiko unequivocally as her daughter-in-law. Except for Keiko herself, Barbara’s character, through her interactions with her daughter-in-law, are laid bare and true.

3) Who is your least favorite character and why?

I had to think about this a little bit. There are no characters that I dislike because, overall, my characters are honest, and the reader understands the reasons for their actions. However, although it’s not deserved, Keiko’s Aunt Shizuka might bear the brunt of dislike. In Keiko’s words herself (as a teenager), “Keiko had read somewhere that it wasn’t unusual for the baby in the family to be the spoiled brat, and Keiko decided that whoever had written that definition must have known her sister.” However, in the camps, Shizuka grows up quickly. Over the years, she must guard the secret and, particularly in the year 2000, probably comes across as the “bad guy.” But, in reality, she has no choice but to support the decision of her sister. To say more would give away the story.

4) You diverted from your previous genres (thrillers) to write this historical fiction book – What prompted this decision?

I love writing thrillers, and I have written three. Nonetheless, all three start during some historical event. Category 5 begins during the Arab-Israeli War of 1973. The secret in Prophecy starts during the great Johnstown flood of 1889, one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history (2200 people died when a poorly-maintained dam gave way). And finally, White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy begins in Hitler’s bunker at the end of World War II.

For How Much Do You Love Me? the Japanese internment is the centerpiece for the story. And for this historical event, I thought that a love story would be most appropriate. This decision also made it possible for me to try another genre.
5) What are some of your favorite books of all time?

As an adult before I retired from my job to write fiction, I wouldn’t say that I was an avid reader of fiction. Once I started writing fiction (about fifteen years ago), I made a renewed effort (and still do) to read a variety of novels to learn how to write better (I just finished The Great Gatsby and now appreciate how it became a classic). Ironically, the heaviest reading period in my life occurred when I was in grade and middle school. I loved Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and all books by Jim Kjelgaard: for example, Big Red, about an Irish Setter and a boy who grow up together. And so, what are my favorite books of all time? I know my answer will disappoint you. I read and loved all of the early Tom Clancy (the famous thriller writer) books (before he teamed up with other authors). I suppose that demonstrates why I enjoy writing thrillers now.

6) Where and when are places you prefer to write?

Although I am truly a morning person, I write in the afternoon. I guess that’s because I tend to catch up on chores in the morning. Where? We have a small guesthouse, and I’ve written my last three books sitting at a table by the window. I can write anywhere, however, as long as it’s quiet.

7) What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Frequently, I’m asked this question at book signings. Limiting conversation only to fiction, I recommend doing what I did. Start small by writing short stories; I did that for four years before I began my first novel. Your first goal is to learn story-telling skills, and there is no better way. Short stories are “bite-size” and can run from a page long on up; if the story isn’t going well, toss it in the trash and start over; not much time or effort is lost. Everything else being equal, truth be told, it is in many respects more difficult to write a short story than a novel. One of my early mentors gave me encouragement when she told me, “If you can write a short story like you’ve just sent me, you’re ready to tackle a novel.” I took her advice and did what she said.

Find Paul’s book here:

And here:

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Interview with Brenda Corey Dunne – Author of DEPENDENT

I’m pleased to have a chance to speak to the author of DEPENDENT – Brenda Corey Dunne!
But first, a bit about the book:

When 45-year-old Ellen Michaels loses her husband to a tragic military accident, she is left in a world of gray. For 25 years her life has been dictated by the ubiquitous They—the military establishment that has included her like chattel with John’s worldly goods—his Dependents, Furniture, and Effects. They—who have stolen her hopes, her dreams and her innocence, and now in mere months will take away the roof over her head. Ellen is left with nothing to hold on to but memories and guilt and an awful secret that has held her in its grip since she was 19. John’s untimely death takes away her anchor, and now, without the military, there is no one to tell her where to go, what to do— no one to dictate who she is. Dependent deals with issues ever-present in today’s service families—early marriage, frequent long absences, the culture of rank, and posttraumatic stress, as well as harassment and abuse of power by higher-ranking officials. It presents a raw and realistic view of life for the lives of the invisible support behind the uniform.
A terse, no-holds-barred and uncompromising view of spousal life within the military. Dunne paints a realistic portrait of the husbands and wives who stay behind when those in the uniform go on to serve their country, illuminating the silent sacrifices demanded of a military spouse.

Elegantly structured, Dunne chooses to organize her book in chapters based upon her family’s multiple military relocations. (i.e. House #1, House #8, House #13, etc…) This works, because it clearly illustrates the challenge all military families must face when attempting to find stability amidst a career filled with uncertainty and potential chaos.

Ultimately, the novel explores one woman’s journey to realize her own identity and self-worth after years of being overshadowed by her husband’s accomplishments, while bravely attempting to conceal a terrible secret. Ellen Michaels must reach deep within herself to reclaim the strength and the vitality she once knew she had.

Overall, this book exposes difficult, but worthwhile themes that are essential for discussion, particularly in light of our contemporary political and societal landscape.

(My only suggestion is I would have liked the setting to be more concrete. I felt the locations where untethered, flopping about in some vague ‘North American” city or village or town that may or may not have snow. I would have liked the settings to be more specific. i.e. We are in New Brunswick, in the town of XXX. Or we are in Wisconsin, etc…It helps to keep the reader more oriented in the story.)

Otherwise, a swift read and faithful representation of the valiant spouses who support our men and women in uniform every single day.


And now, to the best part – THE INTERVIEW:

1) What inspired you to write this book?

About 8 years ago I was a stay-at-home mom and military spouse. My husband was a military pilot who was away for months at a time, and my kids were young. But I was also an ex-military physiotherapist who had let all of her personal achievements slide. One day I took a really good look at my life and realized that if I didn’t do something—and quickly—I was going to be in my forties, and still home with no kids to look after and nothing but my husband’s military status to base my self worth on. It terrified me. And so I sat down and wrote those fears in fictional form—what later became DEPENDENT.

2) What was your favourite part about writing this book?

DEPENDENT was not an easy book to write. There is a lot of emotion in the book and I had to put down the manuscript down many, many times as I wrote it. I think my favourite moments were those moments when I picked it up again, re-read what I had written, and recognized that I had succesfully captured the feel of being a military spouse in a certain situation—moving with toddlers, missing a spouse who is away, dealing with broken household equipment on your own, or meeting new spouses at a new base. It’s very rewarding to recognize reality in your own writing.

3) The structure of the book (using the various houses) was very compelling & interesting. What prompted you to structure the chapters this way?

Military spouses move frequently (case in point, my family and I spent early July driving from Ottawa to Vancouver Island—a 5000 km trip—to our 10th house), and we often remember the timing of life events by what house we were in at the time, or what city we were living in. I thought it was appropriate to use this structure because this is the way military spouses describe the timeline of their lives.

4) Were there any drawbacks to this structure?

Many. When I finished writing the first draft, DEPENDENT was really just a jumbled bunch of snapshots. I printed the manuscript off, paper-clipped each section off, and then reorganized them into some sort of structure. It was difficult to make the story flow and not confuse the reader. I wanted to move the story forward in both past and present, eventually colliding the two. Hopefully I succeeded.

5) Who is your favourite character in the book & why?

I do love John…his joie de vivre, and his love of his wife. He’s really just a happy guy doing his job, and in his defense, it’s not really his fault that he doesn’t recognize his wife’s troubles. I also love the steady friendship of Jennifer. She has qualities of several of my closest military spouse friends—quiet strength, patience, and the intuition to offer help when it’s needed most.

6) What are some of your favourite books of all time?

I have so many! Books are friends that never change, they just reflect the changes in my perception. I really love a good escape book and I’ve read just about everything by Anne McCaffery. I loved her DRAGONSINGER/DRAGONSONG/DRAGONDRUMS trilogy. Tammara Webber’s BETWEEN THE LINES series—a wonderful relationship series that was originally self pubbed—encouraged me to go the self-publication route for my first novel. And who can beat PRIDE AND PREJUDICE for wit, dialogue and dreamy romance? I could read it a hundred times and never be bored.

7) Where and when do you prefer to write?

My absolute favourite place to write is the kitchen table. With a fresh cup of coffee, the kids off to school and some quiet piano music playing in the background. Heaven.

8) How long have you been writing? When did you start?

I wrote for the school newspaper in high-school, and had several small articles published in local newspapers through the years. As mentioned above, I also wrote a few chapters of DEPENDENT in 2004, but I didn’t consider writing a real, honest-to-goodness novel until I was living in the Cotswolds in England about 6 years ago. The scenery around me screamed WRITE! And so I did. I sat down and started my first full-length manuscript, a middle grade fantasy, which I completed about eleven months later. It’s an amazing feeling writing those two words: The End. I was hooked and haven’t looked back.

9) What other books are you currently working on? What are they about (if you’re allowed to say)?

I have two completed YA manuscripts in the hands of Jennifer Mishler, my agent—one is an urban fantasy about selkies, the other is a pre-dystopian similar to THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. And I’m working on two others. One is a YA historical fiction—a sequel to my self published debut, TREASURE IN THE FLAME. It’s set in early eastern Canada, and has a mix of pirates, romance and magic. Kind of like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN meets ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. The other that I’m working on is a story about the meaning of ‘home’ to military families who move around every few years.

10) What advice do you have to aspiring authors?

I think all authors need to figure out what they want from their writing. To make goals—realistic goals—and stick with them just like with any other career. Short term, long term and dream goals. If your goal is just to write your memoirs that’s one thing. But writing as an actual career rarely happens without many, many years of work, patience and perseverance. If that’s what you want it’s up to you to find the way to make it happen.
My other advice, ironically, is to take all advice with a grain of salt. There are SO MANY conflicting opinions out there…about everything from query letters to numbering your manuscript pages. The internet is full of 20 easy steps to making a million as a writer! It just about drove me insane when I was starting out. Now I realize that there are few hard rules in writing. And sometimes the people who break the rules are the ones that are the most successful. The key is to find what makes your writing unique, and stick with it.

Brenda grew up in rural New Brunswick, Canada. She originally trained as a physiotherapist and worked several years as a Physiotherapy Officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force before meeting the love of her life and taking her release.


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Let’s face it, this business is tough. Any industry that involves the arts: singing, dancing, acting or writing requires a lot of fortitude, rejection, general malaise and mayhem.

Case I point: I recently went through what most authors would define as a DREAM COME TRUE scenario – I had a publishing offer!!! Normally when you dream of this, you imagine lots of screams of joy, hot tears and cart-wheels, but instead, it was marred by indecision, sleepless nights and strife (for reasons I will not go into here)…

Ultimately, I turned it down. But I also read a post from literary agent, Sarah LaPolla last month about the virtue of patience. It was a wonderful success story that was at least 4 years in the making that ended in a wonderful book deal for her client!
So – in honor of perseverance and optimism, I encourage you to read it here:
Also, because I love reading quotes and stories from other successful writers to placate my sorry self – I bring you the first installment of “WRITERS TALKING SHOP”. Hopefully this will inspire and motivate us all to keep going and to do the one thing that is ultimately in our control: KEEP WRITING. And never stop. If it’s the one thing you are meant to do, you owe it to yourself to keep going. The only failure is quitting too soon.

SANDRA CISNEROS: “You need to do whatever you can to keep the work going. It helps if you have a trust fund; it helps if you can do without a lot of sleep. But you have to be OBSESSED; it’s not discipline, but obsession.”

JOY HARJO: “Keep the faith. There is a larger shape of reason & meaning, much larger than our small human minds.”

ANTHONY BUKOSKI: “Really, there’s no mystery: one either finds the strength to persist as a writer or one quits. No one cares either way whether you write or don’t, so my belief is a person has to make people care. How? By keeping at the writing, by NOT quitting. My approach isn’t logical. This said, I proceed on assumption in the end, I will succeed…things must get better.”

DOUG UNGER: “We are in the age of the ‘debut’ novel…skews culture in a wrong direction, part of ‘false marketing’ that’s been created around fiction; the writer’s career depends on their debut…The obscene consumerism allowed to take over the artistic process and kill off anything that’s original or alive in writing.
I believe that is how writers make it – by sticking out in the cold, then getting lucky enough that readers find their work. Readers find the good work, the work that lasts, and that’s all that matters. The rest if all about a bunch of business people figuring out how to make the most money off of the writer’s art so they can…what? Buy a bigger house or private golf course?
No self-respecting literary artist hoping to become a great writer should give a shit about any of that. None of that has anything to do with writing well. Writers should work on their stories, novels, poems, essays…Make them as perfect as possible, make their art. Nothing else matters.”

WALTER MOSLEY: “People who fail at writing are the people who give up because of external pressures, or because they didn’t get published in a certain amount of time. Writing is a long-term investment. If you stick with it, you’ll reach the level of success that you need to.”